I have finally met Len du Randt and PW Pretorius for coffee on a warm spring day in Pretoria. I had seen Len before at the occasional braai (barbecue), and I was eager to know more about his business, ClaW Publishing which he launched back in 2012, together with his friend PW Pretorius. They both dedicate themselves full time to publishing e-books for Amazon Kindle, and have already published close to 150 books together – under real names and Nom de Plumes. Today they have the flexibility and the satisfaction of working for themselves, spend more time with their families, earn a decent full-time income online, and employ other people to assist them.
I have been dabbling with the thought of publishing e-books online for a while, and breaking into the world of fiction; so an interview was long overdue. Here is what Len and PW had to say, and how you can follow a similar path, should you want to (and why not give it a try?).
How did you meet?
PW: We met through the News24 blogging platform in 2006. I liked Len’s fiction blog, and we got together to discuss a collaboration. This was before the days of the Amazon Kindle, when we were searching for a platform to showcase our work. We even discussed printing the work ourselves at some stage. By 2011, Amazon Kindle opened its doors to the South African market, and we knew we had the right platform. We co-wrote a book “Kill Them Dead” (a zombie thriller), which launched end of 2011 on Amazon. The business kicked off in 2012.
Len: In 2006, I received the Blog award for fiction writing. I met PW around that time, thanks to blogging. When the South African market opened, we finally published our books on Amazon Kindle. Prior to that, I even had a literary agent at some stage, and submitted my work to countless big publishing houses here in South Africa and abroad without success. It is often difficult to crack the local market as a first-time writer. On Amazon, you also get the advantage of building a readership besides displaying your work online and cashing in on the royalties, which are far more substantial than in the case of a traditional publisher.
What were you working on before going into business together, and launching Claw Publishing?
PW: I have been in the sales and marketing department for seven years in the loan industry and before that five years in the payroll industry.
Len: I do not have any university degree. After finishing Matric (high school), I worked as an IT technician, and in call centres. I had been blogging for years, and used the graveyard shifts in my call centre days to write.
Why have you chosen e-publishing as a business? Why publish specifically for Amazon Kindle?
PW: Self-publishing is the way to go. As our attentions spans are getting shorter, people look to read digital information and stories on their tablets and mobile phones. We recognized the opportunity and its potential. It is very much a keyword-driven business that provides a continuous income. The e-book you published three years ago can still sell today. Plus, it uses a very popular online environment – Amazon. Nothing can go wrong on Kindle.
Len: Really, nothing can go wrong. With Amazon Kindle you have the exposure, and the various benefits of using the platform – such as free previews, keywords search, author reviews, and so on. When starting out, there is an option where you can even go exclusive for 90 days, and make sure your books benefit from maximum exposure to Amazon readers and buyers. Amazon readers are loyal buyers, not just browsers.
Can anyone become a writer for the Amazon platform? What if I cannot write well, or I am not talented at writing, for example? Many people fear that.
Len: If you can put together a few words into a sentence “object-verb-subject”, you can write. Anyone can write. You have to at least be a reader. You need to read,and understand how other people are writing. Take for example the first chapters of a book and rewrite them. Do this exercise.
PW: Obviously, there is a basic grasp of the language involved. Write about what you know. My home language is Afrikaans, and I have published work in Afrikaans on Amazon too. There is a growing market for it. I also believe that everyone can write non-fiction. We all have some knowledge worthy to share. It just depends on finding a different angle, and publishing it. With fiction, you need to have a natural curiosity about life. Like Len says, be an avid reader. I also get inspiration for my writing from television movies and series.
What genres do you enjoy writing in?
PW: For me it is mystery, murder and thrillers. I also enjoy sci-fi and fantasy/supernatural. I am also a fan of non-fiction and ‘how-to’s’.
Len: I like thrillers. I have started with and published Christian fiction (The Son of Perdition), but I do not define myself solely in that genre.
How do you work and plan your day? Do you have any writing habits worthy of sharing?
PW: As a self-publisher you wear both the writer hat and the business hat, make no mistake. Publishing is a business, and you need to think about the business side. I usually spend 2 to 3 hours writing in the morning, do the business side for most of the remainder of the day and fill another 1 to 2 hours at night with as much as I can. It depends on the day’s schedule (especially with kids in the house). I was a part-time writer for a long time while juggling a full-time job. If this is your case, do your writing in the lunch hour, before or after work. My advice: get into the habit of writing. Write, then edit. You can use a time or word limit. And think global. The biggest markets on Amazon are the US and the UK, so give an international flavour to your story.
Len: I usually write with a movie or music playing in the background. It creates the mood for the story I am writing. As the tempo paces in the movie, so does my writing. Just write. Some days you will find it is easier to write thousands of words, other days it will take hours to put together a few sentences. Get something out, then repeat.
Are there any costs involved in self-publishing on Amazon?
PW: You can virtually start with no budget. But make no mistake, you will want to spend a bit more to improve your selling chances. The book cover is very important to attract buyers, and it is true that a book is often judged by its cover. There is a cover building tool in Amazon, but it is quite basic.
Len: I was lucky to have a graphic designer friend to create my covers. In exchange for his work, I did give him the credit in the book. You can always make an arrangement with the designer to get a better price. If you do not know someone, there are communities like Fiverr.com where freelancers sell their services for cheap ($5, or ZAR60).
PW: For editing and proofreading, I use software like PaperRater.com (free option) and Grammarly.com. In my experience, if the story is compelling enough and the character development is good, most readers on Amazon will be prepared to overlook a few spelling mistakes (read a few, not the whole book!)The services of an editor and a proofreader can get very expensive, in the tens of thousands, depending on the book length. For a 60 000 word book, we have been quoted as much as ZAR10 000. It pays to know someone impartial to assist with the editing, and to use some form of software to correct any spelling mistakes.
What is the earning potential for e-publishing on Amazon?
Len: To put it this way, we have never published a book that did not sell a single copy. I know authors on chat forums who earn $50000 a month from only ten but highly popular books they have published, and I know others who earn $5000 a month from nearly a hundred books. (Note: Len and PW did the latter.)
PW: It is a scalable value business, where you can easily diversify and publish books across many genres. There will always be a market for content.
Len: One easy way to scale up on your own is to create a series. If you want to substantially expand your business and you have the spare cash, use ghostwriters. We have tried every single market genre in the sense that we outsource the work to ghostwriters on websites like elance.com after we do a basic outline.
I am starting out. How do I price my work?
PW: There are various price strategies you can use. You can test the market and offer a book for free or for 99 cents for, say, a week. You could also offer a free promo on your book for 2-3 days. Do your market research, and see what others are charging for a similar genre and book length. As an indie publisher, you will want to be in the sweet spot of $2.99 when royalties are around 70%. On anything less it is 35%, and anything more than $9.99 it is 35% again. Pricing is based on similar genres and book lengths, so do your market research.
Len: Give yourself the best price range for your book. Always make sure you have at least 2 or 3 books published before you give away one for free. This is especially true with a series. I learned the hard way when I put a book on for free to download and received good reviews, but I did not have a sequel or something else aside to bank from once the readers were hooked.
I have written my story. What happens next?
Len: You will need to format the book for Kindle, insert the copyright, save it in html, build a good cover, and add an exciting description for your work (similar to the blurb and jack cover descriptions for a printed book). Choose your genre categories and keywords, and you are good to go. Changes take 24 hours to reflect on Amazon, however. your book will always be live and ready for sales during this time. You can change and edit the information as you wish any time after publishing to increase your selling chances.
PW: Get an account on Kindle, do the above and upload your story. Be prepared to receive bad reviews. As an author, you should not respond to any good or bad reviews. Don’t take it personally – always.
How do I best market my story? What works, and what will not?
Len: I will tell you what does not work: having one book on Amazon, and marketing the hell out of it! Forget it. Upload a few books – let’s say 5-6, and start building a readers’ community. Create an email list, and invite readers to check out your work. Offer something of value to your readers, such as free samples and stories. Build a relationship with your readers. Also, go where the audience for your books is at– be it forums, or chat groups.
PW: Think of a marketing budget once you have a few books selling on Amazon, and reinvest some of it to further promote your work to an even larger audience.With social media (Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads etcetera) it is all about engagement. We are currently exploring the possibility of Facebook ads to promote some of our work. My advice is to first start creating a fanbase via an email list. You are not bound exclusively to Amazon – whatever happens in the future, you will still have your community of loyal readers.
What are the most important things to remember when publishing a story on Amazon Kindle?
Len: Write, publish, and repeat. Take a few days to do proper research for book genres and keywords on Amazon. Visibility is very important to get thousands of readers to view your titles.
PW: Research, write, get it up; and follow up with the next one.
You have launched a few online courses to help others start earning online income through publishing. What should buyers expect from www.12launch.co.za?
PW: We launched www.12launch.co.za to help others to create passive income online. The courses are very much online focused, and content driven. This is our way of giving back, and getting people excited about a great income-generating and doable opportunity. Currently, we have a free writing boot camp as well as a paid course, where you get to learn how to write and publish on Amazon.
Len: It is a business that works, and we are looking forward to more high-value courses. For example, I am developing a course titled “How to write and self-publish a novel with me”, where I show students how to outline, write, and publish a book step-by-step. We are also in the process of building us authors’ websites, and we are seriously considering pushing through the app space, where readers can view our work and other exciting features through well-built apps.
Go to www.12launch.co.za to check out the courses, and enroll today.